The Ministry of Justice has published a report on ‘one year review of enforcement agent reforms introduced by the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007’.
The review carried out is in respect of High Court Enforcement agents, also referred to as bailiffs, that are used to collect unpaid debts on behalf of creditors. They have the legal power to remove and sell goods to cover both the debt and their fees.
The Key findings of the report are:
- The reforms have provided consistency and transparency in the enforcement process;
- The overall percentage of debt enforcement by High Court agents was higher than predicted during the design of the new fee structure;
- The major component of the reforms was a new fixed fee structure with the aim of controlling excessive charging and incentivise early settlements;
- Unacceptable behaviour has been clarified and debtors are now given contact details to enable greater transparency over debtor’s rights and how to complain.
It seems clear from reading the review document that the main areas of concern for the Ministry of Justice was the excessive fees and the aggressive enforcement practises of some agents. Whilst the single fee structure sets out clearly what a debtor will be charged and at what stage it does not appear as though the aggressive behaviour has been tackled completely.
The training and certification process introduced by these reforms is designed to ensure only those right for the job become enforcement agents. However, while there appears to be some progress with agents no longer using aggressive and threatening behaviour towards debtors the Ministry of Justice accepts that it is still continuing.
The Ministry of Justice is not proposing to introduce any amendments to the legislation in light of this review at this stage. However, a further review is likely given that not all the results were positive.
Landlords are using High Court enforcement officers to recover unpaid rent and other debts owed by tenants on a regular basis. For those using them regularly some changes may have been noted with yet further changes to come. The sector is under scrutiny and as such any changes for the better will no doubt be welcome.